On May 17, the seniors at Fordham University, my alma mater, graduated at a beautiful traditional ceremony. But this year was different, because every graduating senior received a personalized gift unlike anything Fordham had ever seen before.
You may know about the University Compliments Facebook pages trend that popped up around 2013, where students anonymously submit compliments about fellow students. It’s a simple, but awe-inspiring movement that spreads love and positivity on campuses across the country.
The Fordham Compliments Facebook page took the movement one step further by asking the Fordham community to send in a compliment for every graduating senior. They kept the purpose of their request a secret as the submissions slowly trickled in. For months, they reminded and pushed, and so did other students, to send in compliments so that no senior would graduate without a kind word. In the end, they reach their goal and received a compliment for every graduating senior. If interested, I wrote an article on the Student Leader Collective with more details on the process.
But here’s the juicy part for you SA pros: what they did with these compliments. A few days before graduation, the anonymous Fordham Compliments managers set up double sided vinyl sheets, attached to poles, right outside the McGinley student center. On the vinyl sheets were all of the compliments they had so diligently collected the past few months. This display remained up through the graduation ceremony and festivities. The graduating seniors found their name in alphabetical order and read genuine, inspiring, and positive words submitted by their peers. Needless to say, a typically high emotionally time of year got even more emotional.
Once I got over my initial shock and awe when the pictures of the project surfaced on Facebook, I thought about how it relates to student affairs professionals like you. As a student at Fordham, I was no stranger to the Office of Student Leadership. I know what it must have taken to orchestrate the compliments wall, especially at a Jesuit school filled with rules and regulations. The permissions, the coordination, the emails, and the human power! Something on this scale, sanctioned by the school, around graduation, is a minor miracle.
Students are constantly coming up with, and implementing, ideas on campus. Some ideas are generated through the traditional route of Student Activities, where as other ideas, like Fordham Compliments, are living and breathing totally independent of the institution. While not all student driven ideas are as impressive as Fordham Compliments, each idea should still be treated with respect because the students are taking their college experience into their own hands. It’s in these moments of self-discovery that a student’s passion towards learning truly catches fire.
For Fordham Compliments, it was one Student Affairs Professional who allowed the dream of the Fordham Compliments crew to come to fruition. By doing so, an entire graduating class was left with a one final lasting impression of their love of Fordham.
Instead of forcing students to adhere to the traditional student engagement handbook, let’s use Fordham Compliments as an example of decentralizing engagement and allowing ourselves, as Tom Krieglstein said at ACPA, to be the facilitators of engagement verses than the gatekeepers.